Steve Rogers: Health department may divide traditional factions

May 15, 2009

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Doubts about whether the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors is two factions or five individual members may be dispelled soon. 

 


Earlier this week, the Columbus Planning Commission approved the Tommy Lott family''s request to rezone two acres on the northwest corner of Lehmberg and Warpath roads from residential to professional offices. The site is an alternative for a new Lowndes County Health Department. 

 


But seeing the rezoning approval on the news lit a fire under District 2 Supervisor Frank Ferguson and District 3''s John Holliman, who were aware of the search for a new site but did not know discussions between District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders, County Administrator Ralph Billingsley and the Lott family were that far along. 

 


Ferguson has been talking with Ceco Building Systems about purchasing two acres at the rear of its property on Highway 45 North as a possible alternative to the two-acre Chubby Lane location to which supervisors originally agreed last fall. 

 


That property is tied up in the myriad of financial and legal troubles plaguing Columbus businessman Don DePriest and likely won''t be free for awhile. Ferguson still favors a North Columbus location for the new health department, which would replace the 50-year-old facility on Military Road, and says the county can get the Ceco property, which is only a few hundred yards from the Chubby Lane land, for the same or less than the $115,000 an acre the county planned to pay DePriest. 

 


But Sanders thinks the county can buy five acres from the Lott family for even less, providing plenty of room for the new facility. Furthermore, the site is convenient to residents in Caledonia and New Hope and east and central Columbus, the areas where many of the health department''s clients live.  

 


The differences could come to a head at today''s board meeting. 

 


"I didn''t know anything about that," Holliman told me Tuesday, referring to the planning commission''s action Monday night. 

 


"People forget there are five people on the board, we aren''t just one person," Ferguson added more forcefully, obviously ready to demonstrate some independence from Sanders.. "I may bring it up Friday, I''ve got the best location." 

 


It''ll be interesting to see what happens. Unless the three traditional allies have mended their ways, it could take an allegiance that unites District 4''s Jeff Smith and District 5''s Leroy Brooks with either Sanders or Ferguson and Holliman to decide the issue. 

 


Such a turn of events would almost be refreshing on a board that for too long has often been divided along racial lines.  

 


But a decision must be made soon. 

 


Supervisors though that after almost three years of debate, they''d finally settled the issue with the decision on the Chubby Lane property. But as that deal began to unravel with DePriest''s finances, the supervisors had to go back to square one. 

 


The problem is a $600,000 Community Development Block Grant to help pay for the $3 million project. That grant must be spent within two years and without an extension, runs out next summer. And no one wants to waste that money. 

 


Steve Rogers is assignments editor for WCBI TV. His e-mail address is srogers@wcbi.com; other Rogers'' columns can be found at www.wcbi.com.